Spring is definitely in the air. Lighter mornings and evenings, daffodils appearing and a reasonably clear path back to normality. Like many of you, we can't wait to see you at a car or owners club meet very soon!
Sadly, we think that there's only one place we can begin this month as we say a very fond farewell to a man who, for millions around the world, was THE voice of Formula One for over 25 years with a motorsport commentary career stretching back a further 30 years.
We are, of course, referring to Murray Walker. His enthusiasm for motorsport, and latterly F1 in particular, was evident to anyone who watched the sport and his infamous “Murray-isms” concealed a fastidious level of research into every facet of each race.
His obvious emotion at Damon Hill's 1996 win in Japan, and with it the driver's title, was in stark contrast the events at Imola 2 years before when he handled the unfolding and ultimately terrible events with a deft and sensitive touch.
His partnership with James Hunt was memorable for their opposing styles and approach and Walker's unbridled enthusiasm was a perfect balance to Hunt's 'laid back' and at times acidic commentary. He later worked alongside Martin Brundle and once again the combination of bubbling excitement and a former driver's insight made for entertainment within the commentary box.
Nobody was able to encapsulate the start of a race quite like Murray – “and it's go, go, GO…!”
Staying with Walker's beloved Formula One and the teams began testing for the 2021 season in Bahrain with Red Bull emerging as strong contenders to topple Mercedes from the top spot. McLaren also performed well with their new Mercedes engine and Mercedes appeared to struggle for balance and some reliability.
Testing is notorious for throwing up results and statistics which don't always follow into the year's racing and Mercedes have been accused in the past of sandbagging during testing. Going into the race weekend, it appeared that this was not the case for 2021 as Red Bull's Max Verstappen was fastest in both practice and qualifying, taking pole almost 0.4 seconds ahead of Hamilton's Mercedes.
The race itself delivered a delicious and tantalising glimpse of the season ahead. McLaren resurgent, a young rookie in an Alpha Tauri at one point besting Hamilton in qualifying, 10 drivers having won a race previously and a Red Bull that looked incredibly tuned in to track conditions, in contrast to a Mercedes which didn't to the same degree.
We can't ignore the initials 'MSC' appearing on the timing sheets for the first time in 9 years – almost a goose bump moment. Has any driver before had the same weight of history on his shoulders?
Controversy too, with Verstappen being forced to hand back the lead in the closing laps after exceeding track limits, after his team had flagged that Mercedes were doing the same thing, in the same place. Few would have predicted that Hamilton could have fended off the flying Dutchman for a further 4 laps, such was the performance advantage. The winning margin was less than a second, with Hamilton's teammate bagging the bonus point for fastest lap on the final lap.
F1 returns to Europe next, with Imola being the scene for, we hope, more excitement. It has often been said that Senna's untimely death in 1994 robbed the sport of one of its greatest battles, with Schumacher of course going on to win his record 7 titles. 2021 almost looked like a stroll in the park for Hamilton to beat this record – we aren't so sure now.
As Mr Walker might have said “F1 is IF backwards”.
There's also a big change for the car which is frequently seen leading a Grand Prix – no, not Messrs Hamilton and Bottas' weekend car, although it does wear the same badge. Safety and medical car duties have been the responsibility of Mercedes since 1996 and, for the first time that role is being shared for the 2021 season.
In another first, Aston Martin will supply both safety and medical cars in the shape of the Vantage and DBX, coinciding with the marque's historic return to F1 after a 60-year absence. Driving duties for both safety cars will remain in the capable hands of Bernd Mylander with Alan Van Der Mewe continuing to pilot the medical cars, the latter having played a significant part in rescuing Romain Grosjean following his accident at the Bahrain GP in November last year.
And we think that the Aston looked (and sounded!) truly fabulous as it was put into service at the end of the very first lap.
Dates for other racing series have been finalised for 2021 with BTCC resuming at Thruxton in May and a full 30-race calendar planned including spectators once again returning to circuits throughout the UK.
Historic motorsport is also set for a return with most events now confirmed and hopefully open to spectators as soon as lockdown rules permit. We can't wait for the return of racers spanning almost the entire life of the motor car and being able to spend time getting up close and personal with some of these stunning machines.
Staying with motorsport, as we wrote this article, news came in from Germany of the untimely passing of Sabine Schmitz. Known to millions as the slightly crazy and definitely crazy fast racing driver from BBC's Top Gear, her skills around The infamous Nurburgring were at another level – who can forget her laps in a Ford Transit, urging drivers of much, much faster cars to move out of her way?
Her racing career stretches back over 20 years in various disciplines, notably driving sports and saloon cars in endurance events and covering an astonishing 20,000-plus laps of the German circuit, close to where she was born providing a 'taxi' service to those brave enough to strap in next to one of the 'Ring's fastest pilots, in addition to driver training services.
She added presenting work to her CV during the noughties, including regular TG appearances and will certainly be remembered for her natural charm, obvious skill and ability to shut down even Mr Clarkson with similar precision to her driving.
We're also sad to report the death of former Le Mans winner Johnny Dumfries. Born John Colum Crichton-Stuart in 1958, he was formally titled the Earl of Dumfries.
During a career which included F3, F1 and Sport Car Racing, he faced the unenviable task of being teammate to Ayrton Senna at Lotus in 1986. He switched to sports cars the following year, initially driving for several teams before impressing enough to earn a full-time drive for fellow Scot Tom Walkinshaw in 1988 and being part of the team that toppled Porsche at that year's Le Mans.
He raced for 5 further seasons, sadly not repeating his Le Mans success and became the 7th Marquis of Bute when his Father passed away in 1993, running the family estate and founding a charitable trust.
From motorsport and a frankly rather sad month to some positive news for motorists. Chancellor Sunak's March budget confirmed no increases for fuel duty, vehicle excise duty and no new taxes relating to vehicle ownership or use.
There are some changes to using your car if you're travelling into Europe post-Brexit and we've written about them here. We will continue to keep you updated as more news and updates become available, particularly as many of you will, we suspect, be starting to plan European adventures for the second half of 2021.
On the subject of driving, recent research revealed that many of us might be driving with an expired photocard licence. These are valid for 10 years and must be renewed. An extension was granted for licences expiring during much of 2020 but this has now been withdrawn and fines of up to £1,000 can be charged for drivers who have not renewed. You can read about how to renew your licence here.
As lockdown measures begin to show the first signs of relaxation, why not head to our resources page here where you'll find some great articles on making sure your car is ready. We're looking forward as much as all of you to returning to those motoring activities – meeting up with fellow enthusiasts to the backdrop of engines gently ticking as they cool in a pub car park on a summer's afternoon seems like a very long time ago!
We move from cars to watches next and a great interview with the CEO of Swiss watch firm IWC and how his obsession with model cars led to a collaboration with toy giant Mattel. You can read the article here and our own take on the world of small cars here
2021 also marks an important anniversary for a very important motor car. It's hard to believe that Jaguar's E Type was conceived only 10 years after the Second World War ended and we can think of few sports cars to have achieved the same global recognition. From motorsport to grand touring and from Charlie Croker to Austin Powers, this is another car known simply by its badge.
It should therefore come as no surprise that this month's icon article takes a look at 'The E Type' and we once again talk to someone who knows this amazing car very well indeed. You can read out interview with Peter Neumark here.
We're back to the present next and Volkswagen's look towards their future, with news emerging from the Wolfsburg giant that they are developing a single EV-only platform to underpin all future models beginning in 2024/5. VW arguably defined the common platform, engineering a broad spectrum of models across group brands including Audi, Seat and Skoda based on the same basic architecture.
We move from EV to resolutely ICE power next with news that Gordon Murray's T.50 has been spotted testing following its launch. The car was spied at the Dunsfold site, home of course to Top Gear and close to its current base.
And if the 'standard' car with its 650bhp isn't enough for you, a track-only version has also been announced. The 's Lauda' model adds aero throughout, another 75bhp and somehow manages to shave weight from the hardly portly regular model, coming in at an astonishing 825kg (for comparison, Porsche's GT3 RS, a car not renowned for needing to diet, has never tipped the scales below 1,400kg). Only 25 will be made, costing the lucky owner £3.1million.
Our last automotive story this month stays with the ICE theme and news from Land Rover that they will top the Defender range with a faintly ludicrous supercharged V8 model. Boasting 518bhp and with eye watering acceleration figures, the car will be available in both 90 and 110 guises and cost from just below £100,000.
Billed as being made to appeal to enthusiastic drivers, suspension is given an overhaul to ensure that exploiting the car's performance remains an enjoyable experience.
We are almost having a Peter Kay 'garlic bread' moment with this car “Land Rover? With over 500bhp? Supercharged…?” (and you do win bonus points if you said that in his voice!). As a moment of comparison, the last time the Defender was offered with a V8 from the factory, it produced 112bhp.
Bonkers? Almost certainly but we can't help but applaud Land Rover for building this at a time when many are increasingly moving away from large capacity petrol powered engines, particularly in the SUV/4x4 sector.
New car launches – and March is getting busier
After a relatively slow start to 2021, this month sees a number of new cars breaking cover.
- Aston Martin V12 Speedster – following Ferrari's Monza programme and McLaren's Elva, the latest open-to-the-elements supercar evoking the sports racers from the 1950's comes from Aston. Sitting on a new platform combining Vantage and DBS Superleggera elements, just 88 of the cars will be made at a cost of around US$1m each.
- Audi Q8 TFSIe – range topping Audi SUV gains 2 high performance plug-in hybrid models, both capable of hitting 60mph in well under 6 seconds. Prices starting at £74,000.
- Ford Mustang – Ford's Mustang-badged SUV arrives at the same time as its V8 powered Mach 1 coupe. Two cars sharing a badge but sitting at opposite ends of the motoring spectrum!
- Land Rover are very busy. In addition to the V8 Defender mentioned above, they are launching a hybrid version, badged p400e and the same hybrid powertrain will be made available in a refreshed Velar. The Discovery also gets a refresh but not the same plug-in option.
- Volkswagen add the 'R' badge to its Arteon saloon and shooting brake (and doesn't that sound better than plain old estate?) and also its Tiguan and Touareg SUV's. All bar the Touareg are fitted with the 2 litre 316bhp motor from the ever-popular Golf R, with the range topping car getting the same 2.9litre engine as Porsche's Cayenne hybrid, delivering over 450bhp.
- Volvo's XC40 becomes the Swedish company's first fully electric model, with a 78KwH battery delivery over 400bhp and a range of up to 260 miles. It paves the way for further EV's from Volvo in future.
Mercedes has also reported progress with its AMG One, having worked hard to overcome the daunting prospect of creating a road car based almost entirely on its hugely successful F1 car. It doesn't come as a surprise to hear that this has proved to be a mammoth task. We're glad that it remains on track and we look forward to seeing how it compares with Aston's Valkyrie.
You can Glenmarch's latest roundup here and the auction houses are now starting the season in earnest. Results so far for 2021 have continued to be strong across most marques and genres of motor car, with results for some cars exceeding expectation.
We will be watching with interest during the year to see whether this trend continues.
Introducing Lockton Private Clients
You would be forgiven for thinking that Lockton specialises only in arranging insurance cover for specialist and collectable cars and, whilst we are very good at this, it isn't the end of the story – by a long way.
Our Private Client division can provide the same level of expertise and assistance with the insurance cover and management of risk for your home and its contents, including the things that you collect.
Why not visit our website at www.locktonprivateclients.com to find out more.
So as we head towards the end of the first quarter of the year, we are quietly optimistic that things seem to be slowly returning to normal. As we've said that before and had to hastily edit content when the opposite has happened, we'll leave it at that for now!